5 Improv Tips to Improve Your DnD Sessions
Updated: Oct 16, 2018
So you want to improve your Dungeons and Dragons sessions with better acting? Let's borrow some key steps from improv! What is that?
Let's start by defining "improv." Improv, short for improvisation, is a form of live theater in which all the major elements are made up on the spot (characters, dialogue, and plot). Normally improv is comedic because everything is so unexpected, but it doesn't always have to be. Improv really is a team sport, because it relies heavily on everyone agreeing to weave each other's ideas in with their own and when this is done correctly, the result can be pretty astounding and very entertaining. Dungeons and Dragons is a form of improv, so many of the tried and true principles of this acting genre are pillars to successfully creating an amazing game together. Together, we will go over 5 improv tips to significantly enhance your dnd experience.
Say "Yes" and always go with it
The best way to create an interesting plot is if you are always surprising each other with the elements within that plot. It is difficult to guess where a story will go, but that is the magic of improv!
When someone at your table has an idea, simply go with it. Think to yourself "yes, and this is how I will react." Don't spend time arguing with each other over silly things or making a fuss about a particular action of direction one of the players wants to take. Instead, use the new information as canon to your story. With this new information presented in the world, ask yourself how your character would react to this information, and use that as a place to start your reaction to it.
If you are the DM, it is easy to try and direct the game yourself, especially if you have spent hours plotting and planning encounters. A trap that is easy to fall into as a DM is to force players to engage with a plot you have crafted, unwaveringly. But instead of saying "no" and potentially disengaging your players when they do something you do not like, have them roll dice and stack the odds in your favor. Otherwise, don't plan too far ahead and expect your players to follow your plot line. They most certainly will not do what you think.
Start and end on a positive note
When the session starts, as a group, focus on light-hearted stuff. Even if the last session ended with a total party knockout or an important PC was killed, use this situation as a time to reflect on the positive aspects of the previous session, so you have a place to launch from. Positive engagement opens up creativity, while negative engagement usually results in fights or not having fun. The best way to prevent starting on a negative note is to try not ending your sessions on a negative note. Try to resolve the tensest situations prior to packing up for the night to ensure when you start again, you have a bunch of possible outcomes to work with. If you are having tensions with a player in your group for whatever reason, resolve those tensions before playing the game, or find a way in-game to work together and build on that teamwork. Sometimes a little tension helps to develop a set of dynamic characters that you end up truly engaging with. It is hard to do that if your character's personality is very predictable, but if this attempt to create tension causes issues within your group beyond a plot point, do yourself and your group a favor, and resolve it quickly before it gets out of hand.
Focus on cooperation
Use your contributions as a way to include others at the table. If you have an idea for something your party should do, they might be more inclined to do what you want if you give them a good reason. For example, let's pretend that your adventurers all have a connection to a specific villain, a place, or a deity. If you want to explore a certain region of your map or create a new plot point, consider throwing in a variable that will make all the other players engage.
"I will join you on your quest to retrieve the sword of Edgard because I know it is what we must find in order to defeat the evil Drow King who scorched my lands." Don't be afraid of what the players at your table will think of your ideas, even if that idea is absurd. You'll probably get a laugh, and then you will see the gears turning within their minds for how to incorporate your idea in with theirs. So if you have an idea of something you would like to contribute to the group, but are unsure of how others will respond, remember this first tip and just go with it.
Turn down the volume on your ego
Yes I know you spent a lot of time preparing this amazing scenario or plot point, but something has just come up that completely ruins it. What does someone with a big ego do?
They create tension.
They pout or make aggressive gestures.
They stop engaging with the group.
They actively try to ruin everyone else's fun.
Having a large ego can be a serious damper on everyone's good time. Instead of relying on feedback from the table to determine your mood, work on developing your inner self-esteem. What does someone with high self-esteem do in this situation?
They roll with it
They laugh it off
They rely on their inner purpose or their character's vision to keep them going
They begin planning the next opportunity to make that cool scenario happen, even if it has to happen in a way they hadn't planned.
It is ok to not get your way. Turn the volume down on your ego and turn up the volume on your engagement to better influence the story in a way that helps you achieve your goals as a player.
There are no such things are mistakes
Much like an improv session, d&d is all about forward momentum. If there is an issue with the rules or someone is unsure of how something should happen, the DM should make a ruling on it so the story can progress. Instead of breaking the flow to look up a specific rule, resort to the idiom that "The DM is Always Right" and move on.
Bonus Tip #6 Take an improv class
Improv classes are available in most major cities and many times they are free for new people. The best way to be better at improv is to surround yourself with people who are willing to improv with you. If you want to be a better actor, or a better Dungeons and Dragons player, taking an improv class can really help build your self-confidence to perform.
Did I miss something important? Let me know in the comments your best improv!